x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Israel unveils advanced bomb shelter in Tel Aviv

Israel has put the finishing touches on a new gathering place that it hopes will never host a crowd: the country's most advanced public underground bomb shelter.

TEL AVIV // Underneath the plaza outside Israel's Habima national theatre, Israel has put the finishing touches on a new gathering place that it hopes will never host a crowd: the country's most advanced public underground bomb shelter.

The shelter, four stories underground and with space for 1,600 people, is usually a car park.

It is also part of Tel Aviv's elaborate civil defence infrastructure. City officials have been beefing up shelters and emergency services in recent months at a time of rising tensions with Iran and militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

Recent talk of conflict with Iran has given the safety measures extra relevance.

Officials said the timing is coincidental. Israel is under constant threat on its northern and southern frontiers. Security forces run frequent safety drills, cities are equipped with public air-raid shelters, and new apartments must have bombproof rooms.

Israeli leaders have hinted they may mount a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, even as American military leaders urge Israel to wait for tough economic sanctions to take effect.

Should Israel attack, Iran has promised a punishing counterstrike. Iran has missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel. It also supports anti-Israel militant groups Hizbollah and Hamas, which have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past.

Israel's military intelligence chief recently estimated that the country's enemies have 200,000 rockets and missiles aimed at the Jewish state.

The Tel Aviv city councillor, Moshe Tiomkin, cautioned that should Iran strike Tel Aviv, the results will be severe. The last time the city faced direct rocket fire was in 1991, when Iraq launched rockets at the city. "I believe this time we are not talking about 40 rockets," Mr Tiomkin said. "It would be far, far more."

At Habima, the bomb shelter couples as the theatre's new car park. But the facility can be sealed quickly and transformed into a massive bomb shelter.

The shelter's entrance is part of the pavement in the plaza outside the theatre. The doors slide open automatically, and metal handrails pop up out of the ground above a long staircase.

If needed, 1,600 people could climb down the stairwell into the four subterranean floors, according to the Ahuzot Hahof company that manages the car park and shelter for the municipality. The shelter has filters to keep air breathable if there is a chemical attack.

Built as part of the renovation of the theatre completed last year. Roi Flyshman, spokesman for the government's civil defence ministry, said the shelter was "very advanced" and could serve as a blueprint for others. The shelter is part of the city's network of refuges that can give cover to 250,000 people.

In Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center, the director-general, Gabi Barbash, said an underground car park can be transformed into an emergency ward with up to 1,000 beds in 48 hours. The hospital, built a year ago, can function for seven days.

An opinion poll in Jerusalem suggests the majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favour an attack only if it was carried out with US agreement, an opinion poll showed yesterday.

The survey by the University of Maryland and the Israeli Dahaf Institute was released before talks next week between the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Barack Obama, the US president, on Iran's nuclear programme.

The poll found that 34 per cent of the 500 people surveyed believed that Israel should not strike Iran and 42 per cent said it should attack only if the US backed the decision. Only 19 per cent believed Israel should attack even without the support of Washington.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press